WASHINGTON – It was a bitter way to start the 113th Congress,and the fight still is not over.
The threat of the government defaulting on its debt has been averted,at least for now,after the Senate passed a bill Thursday that would remove the nation’s debt ceiling until May. While some members from both parties have expressed disagreement with the bill’s details,Republican and Democratic leaders agreed Congress needed to be swift above all else to avoid catastrophe. The bill passed on a 64-34 vote,with only 12 Republicans voting in favor.
In the end,both parties were able to swallow enough pride to push the bill through.
Assuming Obama delivers his promised signature,the bill will do away with the nation’s debt ceiling until May 18,authorizing the Treasury Department to borrow however much cash is needed to cover the government’s bill until then.
If Congress does not find a long-term solution before that date,the $16.4 trillion limit would automatically be reinstated. Analysts project the U.S. will surpass that date as early as mid-February,although they do not have an exact time for when that judgment day will come.
Some Senate Republicans tried to add amendments to the bill,but they were overwhelmed by the Democratic majority. Sen. Rob Portman,R-Ohio,failed to push through an amendment that would have required any debt ceiling increase to be matched with equal spending cuts over the next decade.
Sen. Pat Toomey,R-Pa.,failed to get agreement on an amendment that would have put members of the military and people receiving Social Security first in line for payment if the government broke the debt ceiling. The proposed amendment came after a group of House Republicans threatened to sink a vote to raise the limit,which would trigger a default.
Even in areas where the two parties likely could have found common ground,speed took precedent — any amendment would have sent the bill back to the House,which is not in session this week,and killed its momentum.
“What are the markets going to think?” Sen. Max Baucus,D-Mont.,said during the debate. “It’s just nonsensical.”
The vote came after a busy morning for senators,many of whom attended the daylong confirmation hearing for defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. After grilling Hagel for opposing the 2007 troop surge in Iraq,Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz.,rushed to the floor to lash out against an unrelated amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul,R-Ky.,which sought to add a ban on the U.S. providing weapons to the Egyptian government. The amendment was easily defeated.
To quell feelings of defeat from the far right,House Speaker John Boehner,R-Ohio,successfully added a compromise early on that would withhold senators and House members’ pay if they do not pass a budget by April 15 each year.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid,D-Nev.,and Obama reluctantly opted to move forward,even though both expressed distaste for the bill.
Reach Reporter Ian Kullgren at [email protected] or 202-326-2143. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.